Archive for November, 2013

Great Balls of Birds

Posted by admin on November 15, 2013  |   No Comments »
European Starling  Credit: Gary Mueller

European Starling
Credit: Gary Mueller

One of my friends phones every so often, as she commutes home from Salem, Oregon to Portland, to describe the enormous flocks of birds that change shapes in the sky. “They’re starlings,” I tell her. The Willamette Valley is not the only place the mesmerizing murmurations of starlings occur. In fact, starlings are not native to the Americas; they are native to England. Today, another friend sent a link to a 4 minute video by a British wildlife photographer who describes his wonder that the birds’ communication allows them to create these evolving formations.

Some time ago, a videoof a young woman’s experience watching the starling flocks (flock appears at 0:24 sec. in this 2-minute film) in a very different environment was featured as was part of a blogpost from my favorite Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The accompanying blog post explains the phenomenon and points readers several research articles. As you computational biologists might suspect, the starlings relate to their “nearest seven neighbors.”

Whether you love the birds, the mathematics, or the surprise, the murmuration is a lovely phenomenon.

An Unusual Woman on Pribilof Island Seals

Posted by admin on November 12, 2013  |   No Comments »
An Inspiring Diary

An Inspiring Diary

First person accounts of experiencing wildlife allow us to imagine what scientific papers never convey: the sight, smell, touch, sound of the animals which most of us never encounter. Libby: The Sketches, Letters & Journal of Libby Beaman, Recorded in the Pribilof Islands 1879-1880 is an astounding experience of a year in one of the most remote places on earth by a woman of unusual sensibilities and observational abilities.

While I look for her diary on seals themselves, I recommend that you consider taking an armchair trip to a unique environment in a unique time, just after the purchase of Alaska.

the bachelors–and the matkas live on the abundant sea life in these waters. They have no defenses. Twice we’ve seen Orcas chase them right up against rocks in the surf and swallow them….After the mating season, which will last until the end of July, the harems will break up…and…there will be even greater motion on the rookeries. Finally, when the freezing boorga blows out of Siberia about the end of August, all the seals will swim away…until the following spring, when again they will come back in the same order–the bulls first, then the bachelors, then the cows, and finally the pups.

The Pribilofs

The Pribilofs

Among the many observations made by Ms. Beaman is that “pelagic pirating” created a threat to the herds reestablished after the Russian “depredation” of the seals in the region.

So fascinating is Beaman’s account that I’ve begun a search for “The Seal Book,” which is a separate diary with observations about the seals’ behavior.